It was past midnight when the timer alarm rang. It was not necessary as I was already awake, the howling wind on the mast just adding to the typical pre-passage anxiety.
It was time to leave Astoria.
Our passages here at the Pacific Northwest coast are defined by the weather, and need to be carefully timed according to the tides and currents. This is even more important in the case of the Columbia River Bar, which we were about to cross for the second time – this one at night. As mentioned recently, this is a potentially dangerous place when conditions are wrong, and thus timing is of essence. In our case, the right time to cross it was 2:43AM. And so we had to leave Astoria one hour earlier.
I woke up from the warm bed at around 12.45AM, a bit reluctant, but knowing we had to take advantage of the existing benign weather conditions to keep making south. Put coffee to brew and the scent filled the cabin, bringing a sense of comfort. Adriana at this point joined me, and we started the long process of layering up for the cold wind outside – starting from tee-shirts to fleeces, sweaters and finally our foul weather gear – it takes a good 15-20 minutes to dress up for this weather.
We had our coffees, chatted a bit, checked the weather again, and went outside.
At 01:30Am we started untying Pesto from the dock at the West End Basin marina. It was windy and Pesto was a bit too eager to sail away. As soon as Adriana untied the lines Pesto moved quickly and left her at the dock. I had to do some maneuvering to get back at the dock and Adriana back on board before we could depart.
Leaving the marina, the sea lion greeted us with his/her loud noise, and we took that as a sign of good luck.
The way down the Columbia River took a bit over one hour, motoring against a 1.5kt current. Despite the bright moon up the sky, we had to make some effort to identify moving traffic amidst the myriad of lights on both banks of the Columbia River.
We crossed the dreaded Columbia River Bar just after the slack tide. Seas got a bit choppy, as expected, and the now ebbing tide shot us off the bar and into the ocean like a bullet. With that, we quickly hit the 300ft depth line, which is when the ubiquitous crab trap buoys tend to disappear, making it safer to navigate at night.
We had now really done it – we entered and left this (in)famous marine landmark of the US West Coast unscathed. We felt proud and alleviated!
It was still night, conditions were OK, and Adriana went down to try to get some sleep. It was just Pesto and I now. And right then the wind started to blow from the stern quarter – just perfect sailing conditions. The mainsail was already up and I then set the genoa, eventually switching the engine off. For the first time since we left Seattle, we were just sailing, with no engine whatsoever. And the wind kept building up. First between 15 and 20kts, then 20-25kts and finally 25-30kts.
The seas were mild, but the surface was crisp due to the wind. It was all sparkling silver, due to the strong moonlight. The howl of the wind, Pesto’s sails filled tight. Her movements were bold, but gentle. It felt like we were walking throughout the clouds, riding with the wind.
There we were, enjoying this great sailing, fantastic conditions, flying along the coast at 9knots, under the bright moon. The best sailing I’ve ever had in more than 30 years! And we went like this until the sun broke up from behind the Saddle Mountains.
This was an opportunity to glimpse into how robust Pesto is. Even with 30 knots of wind, with all her sails set, she felt extremely stable, and completely manageable.
It was like this – pure sailing – for most of the remaining 95 miles of the way until Newport, seeing whales at every 30 minutes or so. Apparently some 15-18,000 whales transit this coast every year as winter approaches, en route to the warmer waters of Mexico (we are not whales, but are doing basically the same!).
The passage was mostly tranquil, and Adriana at some point even made fresh cookies ! It would have been perfect had Raquel not gotten seasick – she’s struggled with seasickness on all but one of the passages so far – poor thing 🙁
We reached Newport 1 hour ahead of schedule. The approach and entrance of the Yaquina river bar was uneventful. We sailed up the river some two or three miles, but it was too narrow to drop anchor. So we turned back and tied to the dock at the Newport South Beach Marina and RV park.
Newport has been a pleasant surprise, so much that we decided to stay longer than planned. Of course, this will be the subject of a new post soon.
Have a great Sunday!